Whether or not football really is a matter of life or death, it’s certainly going to feel that way for the foreseeable future. At the moment, we don’t know how long it will be until Reading are back in professional action at all, let alone when a paying crowd will be able to watch them.
The coronavirus outbreak feels like a true existential threat to the game. Normally, whatever troubles afflicted society, football would be the antidote. Whether it be political turmoil, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or most other things, it could all be put to the back of your mind temporarily while thoughts turned to other matters: team selection, tactics, whether or not to put Reading in your accumulator (#GambleAware), and what to get from the concourse at half time.
They may seem like mere trivialities at any time, let alone right now, but collectively they’re the fabric that holds football together. Whether you’re at the Mad Stad in person, following the game on BBC Radio Berks, streaming the match on iFollow, or sneakily looking at Twitter every other minute during a family engagement, it’s those quirks, oddities, traditions and habits that make the game special for all of us.
In short, football is a unique kind of escape. I’m sure I speak for many of you when I say that much of my regular life and routine revolves around football. The working week goes that bit quicker when half of it’s spent digesting a game, debating broader issues and then looking forward to the next match. Even better when there’s a midweek game.
Football’s a community too. It may have migrated away from pubs and increasingly onto the internet - to social media, forums and indeed unprofessional jokes of fan-run football websites - but the common bond between Royals remains. It doesn’t matter if you live in Berkshire, elsewhere or even if you’ve never been to Reading - we’re all Royals together.
That community can often feel fractured, and debates over the big issues of the day can be bitter and tiresome. But they exist in the first place because of what unites us: a shared love of Reading Football Club, the greatest football club that existence has ever been fortunate enough to witness.
There’s no getting away from it, the foreseeable future will be tough for all of us; self isolation, quarantines and the general interruption of all the normalities of life will be psychologically gruelling. We don’t yet know how long those measures will last - only that they’re necessary to keep as many people safe as possible. Football, unfortunately, has to take a backseat.
Typing that last sentence felt strange and, to be quite honest, made me sad. For most people in the world, the absence of football is merely the absence of one form of entertainment, but of course for us it’s so much more. Accepting that football won’t be around for quite a while now feels an awful lot like waving goodbye to a loved one.
But what coronavirus can’t take away is the community we’ve already got. CEO Nigel Howe rightly emphasised that in a statement on Monday evening, while the great people at STAR have similarly pointed out just how important it is for us all to keep talking to each during what will be a tough period.
That’s something we at The Tilehurst End wholeheartedly agree with and endorse. It may well be a lonely, worrying or frightening period for some - completely understandably - but we can fight that by supporting each other. Whether it’s just staying in touch with people, asking them how they’re doing, or having a chat about anything Reading related, we can all play our part.
But it’s also worth emphasising just how temporary this all will be. Football will be back, even if it’ll sometimes feel like it’s been gone forever, and it won’t be long before we’re once more obsessing over whether or not Reading should be playing four or three at the back.